Podcast: Featuring SVP at McKesson – Ammie McAsey
Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple
In This Episode:
Ammie McAsey, Senior Vice President of Customer Distribution Experience at McKesson Pharmaceutical Solutions and Services talks with us about some of her greatest influences in getting started and advancing in her supply chain career, plus how to build and manage high performing teams, the value of mentoring, and her advice on handling adversity and continuously learning.
Ammie Mcasey Bio:
(01:28) How did you get started on your supply chain path, what were your greatest influences as well?
So that’s a good question. I came into this field probably from a little different path. I grew up on a farm up in Appalachia, up in East Tennessee, primarily a pig farm. And during that time, I gained a passion for figuring out how systems work, how we make the whole organization run well. And we had lots of fun things that we dealt with and challenges both on people and processes. I didn’t know that’s what you called it at the time, but I eventually found myself in industrial engineering as an undergraduate. Then I had some experiences in the auto industry, in the airline industry. And found myself when supply chain was really exciting and starting off, this whole idea of managing an entire supply chain was taking off, when I was exposed to that idea, that to me was like industrial engineering on steroids. Beyond the four walls of the manufacturing firm that I’d worked in and had experiences in. And, some of my experiences in implementing things like lean and the Toyota production system, I had experience running into the challenges, going outside the four walls of working with suppliers, we did a great job inside the organization, but working with suppliers became the challenge. And so, when I had the opportunity to get into supply chain, I jumped at it because I just thought it was exciting. I then found my passion to teach and research, and pursued a PhD eventually.So my supply chain journey started as a part-time job for a third-party logistics company while I was in college. In fact, it was a second shift shipping receiving clerk position. And I enjoyed what I was doing so much that as I was nearing graduation, the company offered me a job and I was looking in a completely different industry, but just found so much excitement in the role and the rest is history. Here I am 20 years later still having the time of my life.
Some of the greatest influences that really got me started and helped me along the way were really great people. They say that people are the greatest asset in any company. And I would say that in my early career, that held true and still does today. You learn something from everyone and whether they know it or not, they helped me get to where I am today. But the most influential lessons that I learned weren’t necessarily about supply chain. They really were about leadership. And early in my career, I worked for someone that on the surface really appeared not to care about people. And I was like, Ooh, is that kind of the environment that I’m going into? But I could have never been so wrong in my life. No. He was someone that cared so much about his people that he fought for them behind the scenes. He advocated for them in meetings when they didn’t, they weren’t even present. And he really made tough decisions and stood up for them. And so while the interesting part about supply chain is kind of like putting a puzzle together. What really drew me to it and kept me in it is the leadership of people and the ability to influence the lives of people.
(03:00) Could you tell us about some of the key roles you've held and some of the key supply chain career lessons you've learned during those transitions between positions?
So throughout my career, I’ve worked for five different companies, but I’ve lived in seven different states. So, my bags tend to be packed for quite a while. But I’ve moved vertically and laterally. As I switched industries a few times, I’ve even taken a step back in my career and almost hit the reset button, but I’ve touched the industries of third-party logistics, consumer goods and healthcare. A few key positions that kind of framed what has made me who I am today and probably got me to where I am is the general manager of a million square foot, 3PL operation. And that was home to some major consumer goods companies. I also spent some time in customer service for an apparel company. And then in the healthcare sector, a regional manager, then a general manager and a senior vice president of distribution. So those have really been some very pivotal roles that I’ve held.
The lessons that I’ve learned are plentiful, but a few come to mind. One is really don’t underestimate the similarities across the industries. Everyone faces inventory, transportation, labor technology challenges, and they’re surprisingly similar regardless of what industry I was either serving or actually sitting in. The second thing that I would say is build a great team. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to build a good team, surround yourself with people that aren’t like you and bring a diverse set of knowledge, backgrounds, and thoughts to the table. And then finally, and this one is a lesson that applies every step of your career is communication. Communication is one of the most important things you can do. No one can read my mind. No one can read your mind and you have to find ways to make the complex simple and really articulate your vision, your thoughts and your objectives clearly so that everyone can come along on that journey.
(05:00) What matters to you in addition to the leadership and communication sides as you lead major supply chain organizations?
As I mentioned, building a great team is critical and I’ve had the fortune of being able to build teams and I’ve also inherited teams. And I think anyone in their career has probably hit both of those scenarios. Before I actually talk about that, I also want to mention something I learned. And frankly I learned the hard way is you have to have courage to exit people from your team when they’re no longer bringing value. Holding onto them too long will only bring the rest of your team down. So, if you want to have a high performing team, you really need to make sure you have the right people. But once you release that person that might not be your top performer or frankly, they may just need a change of scenery too that, your team exponentially accelerate.
Now kind of back to your question, one of the lessons I’ve learned about building teams, and I really look for diverse set of skills. When building a supply chain team, you need the analytics, you need a compliance mind, you need a transportation background. But really what’s most important is business acumen and financial acumen. I look at supply chain as kind of running your own business, whether you’re running one distribution center or a network of them, you are a CEO of an organization inside an organization, and you really need to know what your company does, who your customers are that you serve into internally and externally.
What are the key value drivers to the business? And finally, how do you make money? This is still a for-profit business and knowing the business and knowing the financial drivers and frankly, knowing your customers is really important. The members of high performing teams have those skillsets and have the ability to really dive in deep, but then also step back and make sure they’re serving the business well.
(7:03) What matters to you in addition to the leadership and communication sides as you lead major supply chain organizations?
I think, remember that everyone’s human. And everyone wants to be told the truth and it takes courage as a leader. And it’s usually one of the hardest conversations that you’ll have, but they’re probably feeling that same thing. And so having that honest conversation around, how are you feeling? How do you feel you’re doing inside the organization? How do you feel as part of this team and where do you see yourself fitting in the team and then having that conversation. Because as the leader. You may be missing something too that you’re doing. But if that employee is feeling the same things that you’re feeling, then the conversation turns to how can I help you find a place where you are going to be happy and you are going to thrive rather than a place where you’re probably not really happy and not putting forth. What’s your best work.
(8:03) When you look externally, what do you feel are the keys to success as it relates to partnering and working with external suppliers, customers, and other types of partners.
The first and foremost is trust. That’s the key to any successful relationship, frankly. And I think in today’s supply chain you are talking about partners. You’re not necessarily talking about transactional relationships. So trust and open lines of communication are the two things that I feel are critically important. Our role is to develop solutions and you can’t develop those solutions without developing that trust and building transparent communication. And really you earn the trust through transparent communication. I recall a time where I was serving a customer and they were consistently getting things that were incorrect from our distribution center and they were taking it personally. And I managed to get in my car and drive out to see them and say, what is going on? And it just happened to be that Murphy’s law. They had a few errors right in a row. And when they recognize that I cared about them as much as they cared about them, that was where we started building that relationship and that partnership.
So, you really have to pour your heart and soul into those partnerships with all of your suppliers and customers. But you need to understand where they’re at and what they need from you. So, if it’s sharing a strategy, if it’s sharing key imperatives, sharing data, if there’s a conversation about financials and budgets, where it’s applicable, Even those conversations allow you to tailor your solutions for them. But then again, open up those lines to decide what’s possible versus what’s not even realistic. Those relationships take time. You think about some of the relationships that we’re in as human beings, they don’t just happen overnight. It’s an investment in your time, but hopefully at the end of that investment, you do have a partnership and not just a transactional relationship.
(10:05) During these crazy times, are you able to get out and visit with your suppliers and vendors and even your facility?
So in these crazy times, I am driving wherever I’m able to drive, which is not too many places to see our facilities. We’ve done so much via virtual right now and we have been successful. I have not been out to visit customers since the pandemic started, but I have been able to get into a few of my key locations and just lay eyes on the people that are doing the really important work that are not in a home office every day and frankly are my heroes because they’ve come to work every day. They’ve serviced a supply chain of people that need what they’re providing and really just the ability to get out and say, thank you has been important to me.
(11:52) Looking back to your academic days at Creighton, what do you wish you had known as a student?
Looking back, I actually wish I would have had more clarity of what I wanted to be when I grew up, because I think it might’ve changed some of my decisions. I knew that I wanted to work in corporate America and I had aspirations of working in sports marketing. I really didn’t give a lot of thought to the school that had a program in sports marketing, but rather I chose Creighton first because I thought I was going to play collegiate softball, which that didn’t pan out. But then I loved the school and I chose it for its small size and its Jesuit values. I don’t regret my choice by any stretch of the imagination or for one minute, because the four years at Creighton was when I realized that no matter what I wanted to be when I grew up that I wanted to lead people.
My non-academic involvement at Creighton probably was more formative than my academic involvement. And I’ll get to that here in a second, but I had the opportunity to be a vice president of a sorority, to lead a leadership conference to really be a part of things that were more around leading people and engaging people and creating an environment. But as I reflect back, I do wish I would have spent a little more time on some of the academics. And frankly, it’s one of the things I talked about earlier around paying more attention or taking more finance courses as financial literacy is so important, regardless of what position you have. I’m now going back, not necessarily to an institution, but within the organization that I’m a part of taking financial classes again, just for a refresher. And just to make sure I understand how all of the numbers tick and tie inside our financials.
(12:35) What are your thoughts on mentorship? What would you advise to someone that is seeking out their first mentor?
So ironically. I don’t have a mentor and I’ve never had a formal mentor. I’m not opposed to mentorship, but I’ve worked through a personal board of directors in kind of a unique model, it’s different than the mentorship model, but it’s worked for me. And the reason for this is because I’m valuing a diverse set of thoughts and experiences, and I can pull on multiple people depending on the situation that I’m facing. So, as an example, I talked about financial literacy. Most people might say at the position that you’re in, you should know all of this. I’m not so far beyond myself to say I need help. And so, I have someone that I go to, that’s not going to pass judgment on me when I don’t understand some of the finance terms that are being tossed around or some of the numbers. So kind of my finance person on my board of directors. B
ut then when it comes to leadership, people have different leadership styles and we face different leadership challenges. So, I may reach out to one person that’s dealt with the leadership challenge before, but I may reach out to somebody else who hasn’t dealt with it, but I want their perspective. I view it kind of as everybody’s my mentor, but no one has to take on Ammie by themselves in my mind. And also, that allows me to hear from different perspectives and different leaders inside and outside my company that I’m currently a part of, but for those seeking out a mentorship, I don’t want to paint the wrong picture. If you look up the word mentorship, it’s trusted counselor and guide, so it starts with that mutual connection of you and one other person. And typically, it’s created by working on a project together. There’s very few successful mentorships that I’ve actually seen among people that someone says, Hey, I want you to be my mentor, or will you be my mentor? It comes along with being recognized and then having that advocate who is going to be willing to share the good and the bad with you. A mentor often gives you feedback that you may not want to hear, but you need to hear. So I really think if people are seeking out mentorship, the first thing is perform in the role that you’re in. Get on a project with that individual that you would like to be your mentor, deliver results that are important to that mentor, or maybe volunteering to assist on an initiative that that person is involved in, but just outright asking often can feel really uncomfortable because you have to have your story and you actually have to show what you expect out of that mentor. And I think often you can demonstrate that and then it almost becomes much easier to have a conversation around that mentor.
(16:14) What are two of two or three of the biggest influences you see changing and shaping supply chain careers in the coming years?
Boy that almost changes depending on what article you read every day. But I’ll bring it back to really, what’s important is it’s the people. And I think employees are going to have their choice of employer in supply chain. If the pandemic has taught us anything, supply chain is a really broad category, but a very needed category and jobs continue to come up in supply chain. So, I think whether it’s in a distribution center or planning, sourcing capacity, or supporting the technology again, that breadth of jobs, people will be able to move up quickly. And if they’re not happy in an organization, there’ll be able to move to a new organization fairly quickly.
The other thing is that the pandemic has taught us that jobs that we thought needed to be performed in a physical location don’t necessarily have to be. Teams that would typically get together now can do this remotely. So, individuals who may never have applied for a job because geographically, it wasn’t in their future, now may have opportunities that they didn’t have before. And I think that’s going to open up a lot of doors for people, and also open up for employers, a new pool of candidates that we may not have traditionally viewed as able to perform those jobs because we thought they needed to physically be in the same location as us. So I think that’s one trend and I think the pandemic accelerated that one.
The other two go a little hand-in-hand, second is really technology and automation that’s demanding and evolving set of skills for myself included, which I’m starting to believe I’m a little more of a dinosaur than a tiger just because I have been around for a while and I’ve moved through the evolution of technology, but. I may not need to know how to program something, but I absolutely need to understand how it can support the business and how it’s intertwined in decision-making and analytics.
The third is the customer consumer experience. When data and technology are at your fingertips and you know where your package is every second that it’s moving through the supply chain, it ups the game on how good you have to be in supply chain. But I also think it’s attracting a new set of people. When I started, it was kind of, Oh, it’s a dark warehouse that moves boxes, predominantly male industry. That’s not how today’s supply chain is. The supply chain is again that word diverse, but supply chain leaders of today are diverse group of people that come from different backgrounds, and really are thinking about the consumer and the customer experience very differently. You are differentiating yourself if you can deliver exactly when you say you’re going to deliver, because I’m home at that minute or hour. And I may have an appointment that I want to get to, so that customer experience will continue to be a trend.
I would say that every industry that is now going B2C is vying for being perfect and it’s either going to be very expensive to be perfect, or how much does perfect cost and how much is the consumer willing to not pay for 99% versus a hundred percent.
(20:00) How do you keep up with the changes yourself and how do you advise others to keep improving?
I think you have to do this power in numbers. If I read every article that popped in my inbox, or I met with every LinkedIn that connected with me, I may never get my job done that I get paid to do. So, we’ve taken a divide and conquer approach. I have a member of my team responsible for transportation, responsible for customer experience kind of contact center, and then responsible for our network design. They are expected to understand what’s going on in their subject matter expertise. I try and look at is what are more of the macro parts of our strategy that I need to pay attention to that maybe I need to focus on, be it omni-channel distribution, be it distributed order management systems, kind of looking at how can I tie everything together.
But the key is really defined focus. If not, you’re going to get lost in everything. And we don’t have unlimited time and we don’t have unlimited money to invest. So, I have to spend my time focusing on those articles, those industry events, those connections that are going to help me advance my strategy versus everything cause you can really get lost in it and it’s exciting, but you really have to find focus. Couple of industry groups, I have actually worked with a few, and starting to learn which ones I’m going to connect with better, which companies are part of them that are going through similar journeys or may have already been through a journey where I can learn. Those are the areas that I tend to focus on.
(21:42) What do you look for when evaluating talent for your openings? And then what do you do to bring out the very best in your employees?
Yeah, you’ve said it, surrounding yourself with top talent is essential and the landscape is so competitive that you really do have to find that top talent. I’ve hired some great leaders and I’ve hired some not so great leaders. And we talked about sometimes have to exit leaders, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to hire people that bring something new to the team. You can get stuck in, everybody’s starting to think the same way. And so, bringing in a different industry, in a unique skill or a certification that no one on the team has it’s fosters new discussions, even bringing two teams together under the same umbrella can unlock potential that you didn’t know existed cause those teams might have sat in different verticals and had different goals. So, you can sometimes do that inside your own organization, but often you have to bring that new talent in, just to infuse that new spark of innovation.
Another piece of hiring advice is to hire people who are going to challenge you. And the last thing you want to do is get around the table and everybody shake their head and agree. You want those team members that are going to debate with you, push you to think different than you do today. I just read an article this morning. One of those blogs that pops up for two minutes in the morning around leaders checking their ego at the door. And one of the things that resonated with me is. I don’t have to have all the answers. I need to surround myself with a team that can create the answers by working together or by going back to their team and bringing answers back.
So, I really have started to look more and more as I’ve advanced my career for people who are going to debate with me, for people who are going to tell me I’m wrong, for people who are going to challenge me. And previously, I probably would have taken that personally, like, wait a minute, I’ve done this for a long time, and it’s not the case. You have to recognize that your job now is to assemble a team of leaders that can help move the business forward rather than try and do it yourself. And that’s where you just kind of check yourself and check any ego at the door and recognize that everybody plays such a critical piece or critical place on the team. I think once you have that team assembled, you really have to help them see the vision, maybe see the road, but you don’t have to give them the map. That’s what you want to have your team develop. You set the vision, confirm the expectations, remove the obstacles as a leader. That’s one of my primary jobs is remove those obstacles so that team can keep pressing forward.
And then frankly, get out of the way. Give people space to perform. The last thing I want is my boss looking over my shoulder and I know my team doesn’t want me looking over their shoulder. So it’s really around knowing what those employees need from you as the leader. And if they’re not telling you, listening to hear what they need from you, because often it’s the things that you’re not hearing that help you identify where those obstacles are.
And then when it really comes to kind of retaining, everyone that I’ve met that’s high performing wants to continue to learn. So how do I offer opportunities such as challenging assignments, exposure to others, maybe formal development programs or a project outside their area of expertise. That’s what I tend to see gets the juices flowing and less lately on formal development programs and more about immersion into current business topics, current projects than anything.
And then I think it goes without saying, but people want to be recognized and rewarded for doing a great job. So, leveraging the ability when you have that opportunity for compensation time or bonus time to do the right things in terms of rewarding your team, and then publicly thanking them or thanking them in a way that they like to be thanked and everybody’s different. So, you have to find what works for each one of those individuals. Mike Ogle: [00:26:03] One of the interesting aspects when I hear people talk about challenge me, and I absolutely 100% agree with that kind of mentality within teams, then there’s occasionally the, well, I didn’t mean for you to challenge me that way in the group meeting that day when the eight to 10 of us were around the table, and I said, this is the direction we needed to go.
(27:03) Thinking about the current team and as you add somebody, what are your considerations when you're bringing in that new person? As far as culture.
I think it comes back to having integrity. It’s about being respectful. I like someone who’s proud of what they’ve done and has delivered results and can take pride in what they’ve done, but not in an arrogant type of way. For me, it’s are you going to do what you said? And are you going to do it with respect regardless of what your audiences are, who you’re working with? They don’t all have to be like me, from a cultural standpoint, but we all anchor on a small set of values that makes it special when we are together. And we do have to have those discussions or debates, and it’s not about somebody’s feelings getting hurt. It’s about making the right decision for the company and for the teams that we serve. So cultural fit is important. There’s just some people that are not going to fit in some organizations and frankly, that’s okay. But we have to recognize that and we have to be able to explain to that person and even to ourselves, why they weren’t a fit or why they are a fit, it can go either way.
(28:24) What are some specific major challenges that you've faced and how did you go about solving those challenges? And what lessons did you learn from those experiences that improve your problem-solving capabilities?
Yeah, the pandemic was probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced as probably most people in supply chain. And when the pandemic hit, I have responsibility for a network of distribution centers across the United States that supply pharmaceuticals to hospitals and pharmacies. So, no greater challenge than to keep that supply chain running. The first thing I did was realized that I was not solving this problem on my own, that this was going to take an army. And one of the quotes that I use at the very beginning was COVID is a team sport. Because it was going to take the entire team. So, I enlisted a much broader team to formulate a plan and then acted very quickly, make the plan simple, make it easy to articulate and talk about it a lot.
And I go back to communication, but we talked about our plan, every opportunity that I had, whether I was in front of our distribution center leaders, whether I was in front of our executive team, it was keep our people safe. Motivate them to come to work. Keep the supply chain running so we could service customers. That was it. Everything else fit into those three or four buckets. We communicated that hundreds and hundreds of times, and yet people continued to come with, you need to do this initiative and this initiative. And one of the biggest lessons I learned was how to say no. Because we had to stay focused and our people were our most important priority as the pandemic hit and today. That still rings true because a majority of our workforce is still at home when all of our distribution center team members are in the distribution centers, keeping the supply chain running. So, I really focused on keep it simple, communicate it often, have the courage to say no, and really when I look back on the lessons learned, it was involve people and define those guardrails because had we not done that and I thought I could solve this problem myself, we wouldn’t have been nearly as successful because the team challenged similar to our conversation, they challenged me and said, what about this? What about that? And bringing those different perspectives from different parts of our distribution network, we’ve been successful so far. So I hope we never to have to solve a challenge this complex again, but I have a lot more tools in my toolbox for when something similar comes up, knowing that I will lean on a team of people.
(3`1:02) Do you have a pre COVID example for instance, of something that you remember back, you think, Oh, yeah, that was painful, but I learned quite a bit out of it.
Yeah. We started up a facility and in one of my roles started up a facility and we had an automation challenge. Like we were three weeks in and all of our automation shut down. This was really a hard lesson for me to learn, but once the automation was back up and running, I thought my job was to just get in and help get the work done. I failed to remember that I was the leader. So, I was on the lines, helping pick orders, thinking that my one-person of me was going to help just fundamentally move the business that day and get the orders done.
And I lost sight of the bigger picture. I lost sight of what were all the communications that needed to happen with customers because their orders were late what needed to happen with sales teams. What did we need to tell all of these different entities? Instead, I was so focused that my couple hours of work was going to help that I lost sight of being the leader. And so. Really, really big lesson learned, that I had a team of people who could get the work done. They were looking to me to provide the guidance and the leadership as to everything else that was a result of us being down from automation. So, forces you to remember. What your role is, in role clarity and step back and say, who is counting on you to communicate everything that happened. So that was a tough one. I look back on that one very humbly and say, please don’t ever do that again
I’m big into quotes and I have a bunch of them plastered against the walls in my office, but there’s one that sits on my desk and it’s Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it reads do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. And I received that from someone that worked for me very early in my career. And it reminds me that there is always a different way of doing something and not to settle for doing things the same way, challenge the status quo, explore different opportunities, take a risk, try something new. So that’s one.
The other one, and we’ve been using this one a lot right now. It’s the Winston Churchill quote of perfection is the enemy of progress. So, we often wait and I’ve been a victim of this as waiting until my presentation is perfect to bring forth my idea. And what I’m starting to find is a lot of people do that and we miss so many opportunities early on because we’re waiting for perfection. So, don’t sacrifice perfection for progress. So those are probably the two that resonate with me.
My advice to someone starting out in their career is don’t be afraid to ask questions like that is the one time in your career people expect you to ask a lot of questions. Learn as much as you can about the business, about leadership, about everything you possibly can when you’re new, you don’t have your preconceived notions. So, take that opportunity to ask those questions and then don’t be in such a hurry to get promoted or climb the ladder that you miss that opportunity to learn. So often I’ve seen people focus so much on what my next role is that they haven’t taken the time to learn their current role and really learn their current role. So that’ll make them just that much better and more valuable in the next role that they move into.